The 2014 midterm election is a gift that keeps on giving, offering both good news in se and derivative good news. Larry Hogan’s stunning election as Maryland governor, for example, not only brought coattails for state legislative offices but accomplished something that has not so far been noted: It derailed any hope outgoing governor Martin O’Malley had of becoming the Democrats’ second-string 2016 presidential hope.
As National Review’s Christopher B. Summers notes, O’Malley’s eight-year tenure has been rough on the people of the Old Line State, and now the whole country knows that. O’Malley had been not-subtly hoping to spin a vague impression that he did a decent job running Maryland into a position as the guy the Democratic Party will turn to when or if Hillary Clinton self-immolates. The total shellacking of O’Malley’s lieutenant governor and direct party heir makes the M.O.M. 2016 pitch a non-starter.
Now it is highly probable that Hillary Clinton will stumble badly in the next two years. She is a stiff and unlikable public figure. She has nowhere to go ideologically, neither to the Elizabeth Warren wing of the party nor to the faded DLC brand of New Democrats her husband led. That husband will be a curse as well, ostensibly helping her but in fact undermining her in ways so weird and Machiavellian we will need to invent new words for them. And as Hillary showed with her recent job-creation comments, she will also do a pretty good job of shooting her own foot.
As Hillary fails to launch, the thinness of the Democratic bench will become more glaring. The very fact that M.O.M. 2016 was almost a thing indicates how little presidential timber the Democrats have after Barack Obama leaves office (presuming he agrees to do so).
So who still fits the suit? A little American hero named Jim Webb, that’s who. Webb has recently been flirting with the idea of a 2016 run, and that flirtation will get heavier. He’s got one of the most impressive résumés in America: Vietnam War hero; secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration; author of some extremely good war novels as well as the excellent popular history Born Fighting; Emmy-winning journalist; Democratic senator who served without scandal (the most important mark against him is that he voted for Obamacare) and crucially decided not to run again, reportedly out of disillusionment with Obama. He’s a successful politician and a lifelong public servant with the soul of a poet.
This is not to claim Webb will be a perfect presidential candidate for the Democrats. The very qualities that make him attractive as a public personality — his strong sense of outrage, his seemingly unquenchable populist resentment, and his penchant for gruff-but-lyrical narrative flights — could very easily become toxic in the course of a presidential campaign. But just by virtue of having spent the election on the sidelines, he’s looking like the only prominent Democrat who gained anything in the midterms (the best thing you can ever gain in politics: the downfall of a same-party rival). Go, Jim, Go!